Okinawa chef dons ‘golden hat,’ joins elite international group
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — The Honorable Order of the Golden Toque, while it may sound like a secret society straight out of a Harry Potter movie, actually is an exclusive group of international chefs. And one of Marine Corps Community Services’ own is among its newest members.
Wolfgang Geckeler, MCCS corporate chef, recently learned he was accepted into the Golden Toque — French for “chef’s hat.” Membership is limited to 115 chefs worldwide, Geckeler said.
He is one of five to be inducted in a September ceremony at Johnson & Wales University in Charlotte, N.C.
“It gave me chills when I read the letter,” said Geckeler, who became interested in cooking around age 13 in his hometown of Kirchheim Teck, Germany. “It’s the highest recognition a chef can receive. … like a lifetime achievement award.”
To become a Golden Toque member, Geckeler said, a chef must have at least 20 years experience and be nominated by three current members.
The certified executive chef also belongs to the American Culinary Foundation and the American Academy of Chefs — the chef’s honor society.
He said entry into the Golden Toque is based on contributions to the profession. His include mentoring young chefs and contributing to local communities.
He’s taken fellow chefs to schools to cook for underprivileged children, supplied unused food to food banks when working at an Atlantic City, N.J., casino and done “stand-downs” for homeless Vietnam war veterans that became annual events.
Geckeler said when he sought permanent U.S. residency, he had to agree to be available to be drafted — which he was, four months after his arrival. He served in Vietnam from 1967 to 1968. “That’s what made it so satisfying to help those vets,” he said.
He organized the stand-downs with the Department of Veterans Affairs. At each one, a tent city would be set up and homeless veterans would be fed, offered showers and haircuts and clothed. They also were given medical checkups and supplies and registered in the DVA system.
“You have to go out and give something back,” the chef said.
Geckeler worked in casinos for more than 20 years before coming to Okinawa. Some of his duties with MCCS here include coordinating menus for all the clubs, writing recipes, checking food quality and working with supplies and budgets. He also coordinates all menus at Marine Corps birthday balls on the island and numerous festivals on Marine camps.
When asked why he stays on Okinawa, given his credentials, Geckeler said: “I love what I do. I like the area, love the people I work with and the challenges. … I just signed on for another two years. … I’ll stay here as long as I can.”
Rick Wester, an MCCS deputy director, said: “We saw his value when he came for an interview. He has far exceeded any of our expectations. … Especially after earning this award, we’re lucky he landed here when he did.”